Majority Of Americans Say They Do Not Trust Scientists

scientistTo some degree, are Americans correct in believing that scientific findings are swayed by ideology and agenda? Or do they simply long for a return to the Dark Ages? The Huffington Post reports:

How much faith do Americans have in scientists and science journalists? In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, only 36 percent of Americans reported having “a lot” of trust that information they get from scientists is accurate and reliable. Fifty-one percent said they trust that information only a little, and another 6 percent said they don’t trust it at all.

What’s more, many Americans worry that the results of scientific studies are sometimes tainted by political ideology — or by pressure from the studies’ corporate sponsors. A whopping 78 percent of Americans think that information reported in scientific studies is often (34 percent) or sometimes (44 percent) influenced by political ideology. Similarly, 82 percent said that they think that scientific findings are often (43 percent) or sometimes (39 percent) influenced by the companies or organizations sponsoring them.

15 Comments on "Majority Of Americans Say They Do Not Trust Scientists"

  1. Rik Conant | Dec 27, 2013 at 10:23 am |

    The problem here is what passes as a scientist. Science should be trusted, when it is true science. True science uses specific methodology and draws conclusions that are appropriate for the methodology used. True scientists don’t extrapolate greatly from the facts of the findings. Science Journalists often make it worse by adding more conjecture. I’ve seen headlines drawing conclusions from studies that used as few as a dozen people as a sample group. That just makes matters worse to the non discerning public who don’t do their research or think critically (which is a huge problem itself). I’m sorry if it’s a slow news day but be more responsible.

  2. heinrich6666 | Dec 27, 2013 at 11:12 am |

    The general smear is that if you don’t ‘trust’ science you must be a Creationist. And not, say, because science is dominated by corporations and governments. And not because you distrust people generally.

    • While you are correct, you are also phrased your comment in exactly the way I feared it would be discussed. That this data is about a trust in science and not trust in scientist. The two are not mutually inclusive. People can trust in science and still be, justifiably, distrustful of ‘scientist’. The word scientist is supposed to define someone who uses only facts and empirical data to reach logical conclusion without any bias. But sadly, when ‘science’ is funded by huge corporations and governments who are, absolutely, biased and coincidentally, when these ‘scientific’ studies ALWAYS seem to confirm their position- its understandable that people may start seeing a conflict of interest.

      I wont even mention the whole ‘Climate gate’ debacle – Which I imagine is the main force behind the results of this poll.

      • And even without the governmental/corporate involvement there is still dogma among the scientific community.

      • heinrich6666 | Dec 31, 2013 at 9:27 am |

        I don’t follow. I phrased the comment above precisely the way it should be phrased: there’s a great ambiguity in the way the term ‘science’ is used today, including both science-as-scientific-method (which it should only be) and science as a culture, the culture of scientists. I doubt very much whether the data, as you say, is really about ‘trust in science’ (the scientific method) instead of ‘trust in Science’ (the culture of scientists) — if only because people tend to see things in terms of people. No one doubts their eyes when their iPad lights up. No one doubts that an aspirin has relieved their symptoms. They do doubt, however, when scientists advocate for causes that happen to benefit for-profit institutions, whether those causes are mass vaccinations, carbon trading, etc., and claim it is only out of scientific reasoning that they do so.

        • I have, apparently, failed to communicate the meaning of my comment in a clear way. I am in complete agreement with your statements and am not trying to offend you. Your most recent comment and my original comment convey the same intention but in a different way (I can only assume that I should no longer respond to comments when I have been at the holiday egg-nogg.) I was simply trying to say that people would take the results of this poll as an acknowledgement of a lack of faith in SCIENCE, when in fact it is a poll regarding a lack of faith in ‘SCIENTIST’ (I use the word loosely because, I believe, we both agree that the current use of the word deserves some scrutiny, given the fact that many ‘SCIENTIST’ no longer uphold the main goal of science – an un-biased conclusion.)

          I simply thought it was ironic that the 1st comment did not include the word ‘SCIENTIST’ but was, in fact, a comment about a belief in ‘SCIENCE’ in general – no matter how accurate the comment was.

  3. “How much faith do Americans have in scientists and science journalists?”

    Hopefully none.

    Science isn’t a faith based proposition.

  4. Using the same reporting tactic to trump up the last two numbers (which play into the indignant narrative), it could be easily spun like this: A whopping 87 percent of Americans trust in scientists a lot (31%) or a little (56%), compared to only 13 percent who don’t at all (6%) or weren’t sure (7%).

    They don’t even bother reporting the final category (Generally speaking, do you think science is a force for good in the world?), and that 75% flat-out answered “Yes” (which held pretty steadily across the spectrum) while only 8% answered “No” (with 17% “unsure”). New headline: Vast Majority of Americans Think Science is a Force For Good (not quite as rage inducing or controversial, I suspect).

    So, even in a flawed and word-doctored poll, most people have a favorable view of “science” as a method/ideal, just are not as rabidly gung-ho of science as practiced by fallible human beings (which, in all actuality, is science as it exists). Is that really controversial? Should we pretend that scientific conformity, among other limitations and pressures, can’t at times hinder the search for answers? Look to the work of Ben Goldacre and John Ioannidis, some of which is featured in these two recent articles:

    Trouble at the lab

    How science goes wrong

    And when it comes to science reporting, the most critical crowd I’ve seen are scientists themselves. So, shame on them?

    Another recent article that touches on some of the nuance and caveats:

    Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims

    This article is directed towards interpretation of reporting and data (and reporting of data), but it points to flaws found in the practicing of science itself (adding to Goldacre’s and Ioannidis’ critiques).

    So, what, was there a correct answer to this poll? Either you have absolute faith in the decree of a scientist, or you’re some sort of anti-science knuckle-dragger? Wouldn’t be surprised if they had the headline written while the poll was crafted.

    But, HuffPo gets their page-clicks and shares, and plenty of people bickering in the comments (like yours truly).

  5. Adam's Shadow | Dec 27, 2013 at 2:40 pm |

    What a ridiculously misleading survey; you might as well say the majority of Americans don’t trust other people, period.

  6. Kevin byDesign | Dec 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm |

    The difference is questioning Darwin’s basic theories and or , Trusting a BP paid science study. The latter deserves more skepticism…

  7. The majority of Americans that respond to these polls may not even exist in the minds of a small group of lint farmers on the planet Melmak

  8. jasonpaulhayes | Dec 27, 2013 at 4:30 pm |

    Faith in Science? Thats comedy gold !

  9. moremisinformation | Dec 27, 2013 at 8:49 pm |

    I don’t trust people who write headlines that claim anyone thinks they know what the majority of 360-million-plus-people believe.

  10. rhetorics_killer | Dec 28, 2013 at 11:47 pm |

    This for a fact that no truth has ever been embraced by ‘majorities’.. A couple centuries of scientific growth, a fully functional techno-society enjoyed by the many, and yet Americans carry some doubt whether that ‘thing’ would properly work.. This because very annoyed are they by the fact that some dumb-ass scientist have expressed doubt concerning the future of the planet and the sustainability of present appetite for engines and air conditioned, among others. What the poll shows, like every other poll, is that rationality is not much of an option in people’s minds.

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